Join Linda Finstad on an extraordinary photographic journey into the “back stretch” in her new book The Humans of Horse Racing. Discover the inner sanctum of racing, strictly off limits to the public, and the horsemen and women that make horse racing possible.
Mike “Peeka” Nault (49) St. Rose DuLac, MB
Trainer/ Gallop Boy/ Pony Person /Starting Gate Crew
“My dad bought race horses and ran them and I would ride them—I rode my first Thoroughbred race when I was only 9 years old. I was so small and light that I rode with rocks in my pockets and a western saddle pad which was soaked in water to make the weight. That was the start of my life-long career in the racing industry. I race rode until I was around 15 years old and got to big. Then I galloped, trained and groomed them.
“I prefer to work with horses rather than people; you can make sense of horses. Horses are honest—why would they lie? I guess looking back if I were to do anything differently I would maybe have stayed in school and taken a trade, or at least saved some of the money I made race riding.”
Lenore Martinez DuBots from Toronto, ON
“As a trainer, my greatest joy is to watch young green Thoroughbreds learn and develop into champions, I am always humbled by their gentleness and kindness. It feels like the horses just want to please us as much as they can. My deepest regret is that I didn’t start this horse racing business earlier.”
Colton Reid (28) from Calgary, AB
The most interesting/surprising thing I’ve learned working at the track has been to never judge a book by its cover. I have learned that this applies to both the people and the horses.
Just because something is beautiful, well put together or perceived to be worth a lot of money, it doesn’t guarantee that it is going to be the best. I love that in horse racing the underdog always has a shot because really, it doesn’t matter how stacked against you the odds are, when those horses leave that starting gate, it’s anybody’s game. That’s horse racing—as we say.
It’s the same with the people, some of them are a little rough around the edges, maybe even unkempt if you will, but once you know them, you find out they’re just genuinely wonderful people who would give the shirt off their backs to a friend, or a horse, in need.
This job is very physically demanding, it’s also emotionally demanding and dangerous as well, I got kicked in the face and broke my jaw and hand two years ago. It’s more than just a job, it’s a lifestyle; a very time consuming, all-inclusive lifestyle that few people understand.
My long term career goals include getting my trainers license and operating a small barn (15 to 20 horses) as well as running my own cattle farm in southern Alberta.
Larry Dagg (65) from Tisdale Saskatchewan
I grew up around horses and horse racing, where my family raised and raced pony chuck wagons. I remember a time when they had over 50 head. They expanded into Thoroughbreds in 1984. I was drawn to the competitive nature of the sport and also love training the horses. There is nothing better than watching a green horse finally understand what is being asked of them and then giving you all he has got.
My racing career started at Marquis Downs where I was a trainer for 14 years then I relocated to Woodbine in 2003, continued training for a few years but developed an interest in “out riding” so I kind of shifted my focus and worked as an outrider there for 8 years before moving to Northlands.
I take my job very seriously—I have to because the safety of the riders depends on me being able to spot and defuse possible dangers. It may be a horse who comes out a little too fresh and is acting up, or one that gets spooked for whatever reason and turns into a run-away.
My day starts as soon as the track opens for early morning gallops around 6am till noon—then I come back for every race meeting.
I love this life but my greatest challenge is old age.”
Ismael Mosqueira from Mexico City, Mexico
I owe my success to my father. He is my mentor and role model. When I was a young boy, my father was a jockey and would take me with him to the track when he was racing. Which inspired me to follow in his footsteps. Now horses and racing are my passion.
The move to Canada has been good for me. Compared to the racing scene in Mexico City, Northlands is much more relaxed and friendly. Even though the jockeys compete against each other, they all get along, and are willing to help each other if needed. They laugh and joke with each other. It feels like a family, not just all business.
Graham Niblett (70) from South Wales, UK
I started riding ponies at the local farm when I was just a boy around 12 years old back in South Wales UK and fell in love with the thrilling sensation of riding a horse as fast as it would go. I guess the speed was what really excited me the most.
Back in the UK there were lots of boys (not many girls back then) wanting to ride and work the horses, so competition was steep and the owners and trainers took advantage of our youth and desire. They worked us hard for a pittance (barely enough to survive) but only a few ever made it to the track.
Horses and horse racing have been my life. Some people say I should retire. I could sit at home and read the newspaper and watch TV. Or I could get up at 5 am and come down to the track. So here I am, and as long as I am fit enough this is where you will find me.
Win a signed copy of The Humans of Horse Racing! To enter, go to TheHorsewatcher.com and leave a comment on why you would like to read Linda Finstad’s latest book. The winner will be contacted on Feb 14th, 2017. Good luck!
About the Author
Born in rural England, Linda Finstad immigrated to Canada almost 20 years ago. A photographer, author, and “watcher of horses,” she strives to help others appreciate the natural behavior of horses and gain a better understanding of their ways.